What is Expository Preaching? pt. 2

Yesterday we looked at the fact that in expository preaching the text drives the sermon, not the imagination or inclinations of the preacher. Most people have heard a preacher jump on his hobby-horse and use the biblical text to serve his own purposes. That is not expository preaching. As Luther said, “The pulpit is the throne for the Word of God.” So, how does a pastor guard against imposing his thoughts onto the biblical text?  Today’s post addresses the issues of hermeneutics, exegesis, original languages, grammar, word studies and syntax.


Hermeneutics and Exegesis


Bernard Ramm in his classic work Protestant Hermeneutics defined hermeneutics in the following way:

As a theological discipline, hermeneutics is the science of the correct interpretation of the Bible. It is a special application of the general science of linguistics and meaning. It seeks to formulate those particular rules that pertain to the special factors connected with the Bible. It stands in the same relationship to exegesis that a rulebook stands to a game. The rulebook is written in terms of reflection, analysis, and experience. The game is played by concrete actualization of the rules. The rules are not the game, and the game is meaningless without the rules. Hermeneutics proper is not exegesis, but exegesis is applied hermeneutics. [1]

Thus Ramm properly distinguishes between hermeneutics and exegesis. For those who are expositional preachers, their understanding of the text must be governed by a set of guidelines that allows the text to speak for itself without the interpreter being allowed to impose his own personal biases upon the text.

Although some would argue that this is impossible for any honest exegete to do [2], it is a task that can be done by the power of the Holy Spirit. The need to suppress these prejudices is why there is a need for the hermeneutical method. If the interpreter is allowed to import his own pre-understandings, as Osborne calls them, one must ask which pre-understandings are allowable and which are not? This begs the question, cannot the same omnipotent God who infallibly and inerrantly transmitted His Word to mankind also enlist the Holy Spirit to suppress our prejudices and assumptions and expose His understanding over our own ideas? I believe that He can and does. To assume anything less is to leave the hermeneutical process in a constant state of instability.

Use of Languages

Although the great Reformer Martin Luther strove to bring the biblical text into the common language of his people, it would not be accurate to say that Luther denied the need for the study of the Scriptures in the original languages. When asked whether the Bible translated into German was good enough for the man in the pulpit, Luther replied,

Without [the original] languages we could not have received the gospel. Languages are the scabbard that contains the sword of the Spirit; they are the [case] which contains the priceless jewels of antique thought; they are the vessel that holds the wine; and as the gospel says, they are the baskets in which the loaves and fishes are kept to feed the multitude. [3]

Although it is possible to study and preach expositionally without a familiarity and working knowledge of the biblical languages, the expositor will always be dependent upon the resources of those who do know the languages, grammar and syntax of the languages. The student of the Bible will be one more step removed from the biblical audience and will have that much more difficulty properly interpreting the Scriptures and unearthing the treasures of the Bible that can only be mined from one who is able to work in the original languages.

Grammatical/ Lexical/ Syntactical Studies

Because the biblical expositor believes that “not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18), he must not only deal with the text to get the gist of what the Author is saying, but he must delve deeper into the text to look below the surface. Grammatical and lexical studies allow the exegete to get a better grasp of the way that words are arranged in the original languages as well as the specific words that were chosen by the human authors. Also involved in these types of studies are words studies as well as looking at how the individual words relate to one another, and where word structures and order occur elsewhere in the Bible.

Next we will look at the important of historical settings and context in expository preaching.


[1] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1970), 11.

[2] For instance, Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 412, and John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 185.

[3] W. Carlos Martin, The Life and Times of Martin Luther (New York:American Tract Society, 1866), 474-75 as quoted in John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000), 97.


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